Nepal was devastated by a powerful and violent earthquake on 25th April this year. It was a disaster on an epic scale, nearly 9000 dead, thousands made homeless, towns and villages flattened. Liam Arthur was among the hundreds of volunteers that flew to the stricken country to give help in the aftermath. Working for the NGO Shelterbox in the dual roles of aid worker and photographer he helped provide shelter for people whose homes had been destroyed and, in his photographs, recorded their stories and their situation. The images here are some of the people that he met while distributing aid to one of the worst hit areas east of Katmandu.
Liam is adamant about the importance of the role of the photographer in this situation. “As a photographer my role is to document the disaster and bring back stories and media that describe the situation and the people affected. There is no brief as such except to provide material that can be used by the organisation to publicise the situation on the ground and the efforts to help. We often have a unique view and access – as the second part of my role is to help facilitate the importation and distribution of aid to the affected communities. Being closely involved with the people affected gives you an element of trust and understanding with them, often allowing you to get under the surface, under an exterior often toughened by the catastrophic events that have claimed so many lives, to the real feelings underneath.
Being sensitive to the people that you are photographing in disaster situations is vital not only for them but also for the medium of photography to be trusted across the world as a method of revealing a peoples need for help without exploiting those that you are trying to help in the first place. Often it is hard to avoid the cliched images that we so often see, but the more that you talk to the affected communities the more you tend to see the strength and resilience of the human condition. I would hope a little of this strength shows in the portraits of people who have suffered greatly at the hands of the unforgiving mountains that they inhabit.
They are not a community to be pitied but one of courage and strength, to be supported and helped to build back stronger and better. Unfortunately the disaster here has only begun, with the monsoon rain coming followed by a harsh winter in mountains that were prone to landslides before the earthquakes. Images have the power to keep us engaged in a world who’s attention span is ever shortening. It is important that the stories keep getting told. It is important that we see what needs to be done so that we can empathise and support the people that so generously gave us their stories to tell. But most importantly it is important that we do it with integrity.”